“Music Talks” is a series in which Daily Music Writers give their takes on the biggest releases in new music. However, this time, we picked a release that’s not exactly new, and not exactly big, but allows some of our writers to introduce other writers to a genre they normally wouldn’t listen to. From picking best and worst tracks to asking what makes a genre tick, the Music beat is here to give praise and to give shit to music worth talking about.
I discovered the Australian metalcore quintet Thornhill on a YouTube comments section I will never find again. Their full-length debut, The Dark Pool, immediately struck me as an album worth sharing, both entrenched in genre but also universally fascinating for any appreciator of music. Thornhill’s label, UNFD, is a hotbed for fresh and zany ideas in metal. It provides an interesting lens to discuss the band in the larger context of what metal is and where it’s going — here’s what we had to say about The Dark Pool.
-Anish Tamhaney, Daily Film Beat Editor
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and concision.
Tamhaney: So I’d love to start off by just hearing — what are your one-to-two-word thoughts about The Dark Pool?
Drew Gadbois, Daily Arts Writer: Heavy melody.
Jason Zhang, Daily Arts Writer: Surprisingly lyrical.
Kai Bartol, Daily Arts Writer: Exhilarating.
Nora Lewis, Daily Arts Writer: This is kind of broad, but I think unexpected.
Sam Cantie, Daily Music Beat Editor: Stressed out, in a sci-fi world.
Julianna Morano, Managing Arts Editor: I wrote down — like a continual beating.
Q: I would call this album comfortably experimental, and I think that aligns with what a lot of you were talking about with it being a little bit heavy and wild, but also lyrical and melodic. Does anyone want to expand on that or talk about that dichotomy?
Gadbois: I think I’m gonna be the odd one out here, but I didn’t think it actually was that experimental. I think I had a slight knowledge of metalcore to begin with, so like, having that prior knowledge, I think it allowed me to have a little better context behind it. There was a way they used melody that felt very unique. They built melody around a heavy pulse and it adds a lot of momentum, but it didn’t necessarily push you away.
Zhang: Yeah, I was just surprised by how much of it was more of creating a soundscape, and them really playing around in what I would say is a mellower field. And then they would use juxtaposition, and they would go into a more intense driving melody and beat and then return back to more of a mellow zone. That made it continually interesting to listen to.
Lewis: Yeah, I agree. I feel like that prevented it from losing intensity at harsher moments. It prevented it from being sort of watered down.
Morano: I think something that I’m not accustomed to is that there’s not a lot of build-up up to intensity. It was kind of, on or off, sort of. And anytime there was a moment of silence, I was bracing myself because I knew it was going to end quickly, and I didn’t realize that I liked that until I was listening to this.
Tamhaney: Yeah, that makes sense. Because I think especially a lot of the breakdowns on this album kind of come out of thin air, like you said. But I definitely agree with what a lot of you are saying: The pacing of this album, it feels really organic. And I think that really does just go back to melody, because it just feels like the melody writes itself, and it writes this whole album. And they don’t really stick to any structure or any kind of formula, it happens in this natural way.
Cantie: I think I appreciated that it wasn’t extremely experimental, like I could tell that you were trying to give us something that incorporated more melody to ground those who have never listened to metal before. I think something I was left thinking about is the relationship of metalcore to anger, because I feel like I have a complicated relationship with anger, and I don’t get angry, ever. It got me thinking about the ways in which women get angry. So I might be opening us up to something like, too big to talk about, but I’m sort of wondering whether metalcore is extremely, like, male-dominated in “listening-ship”? Is that a word? Probably not. But I think I’m just most astonished by the anger component of metalcore.
Gadbois: That’s a really good point, and I think this goes beyond just deathcore, but what I’ve kind of noticed, with more aggressive genres in general, like industrial and stuff like that, a lot of the more upcoming female artists are representing a female anger and recapturing anger as something that can be female-driven. I think it’s a really interesting topic, and I think it is becoming more diversified.
Tamhaney: Yeah, a great example that I’ve been into lately is Spirit Box, they’re another metalcore band fronted by Courtney LaPlante. And she’s incredible. I think she’s an example of exactly what you’re saying, of transforming what anger can look like or what it can sound like, even.
Q: Let’s get into some specifics on this album. Are there any standout tracks or moments that you want to talk about that really stuck with you?
Bartol: There was one part of “In My Skin” that I had to write down because I loved it a lot. The main vocals that you’re hearing were very melodic, and very normal, but then they dubbed the words with the vocalists screaming the same words, and I loved the feeling of tension created between the melodic vocals and the screaming going on in the back.
Morano: Wait Kai, I think same. I rewound that part: I think that one seemed to exhibit more of a build up. And then an outro with just a repeating lyric, and that was something else that listening to this and really liking that song made me realize that I do, like — because it was such an unfamiliar musical experience, it made me think in more meta terms about my own listening habits and what I like. But yes, Kai!
Gadbois: The standout moments for me were two sections of two songs: “All The Light We Don’t See” going into “Lily & The Moon,” and then “Netherplace” going into that final track.
Zhang: Yeah, for me, something that I remember is definitely “Netherplace.” Just because it’s the eye of the hurricane between two fairly intense songs. I remember listening to “Human” and then I was like, oh, this is kind of like the Minecraft soundtrack. It really took me somewhere, and then like Drew said, it also functions well as a foil to the next song “Where We Go When We Die.”
Cantie: My favorite tracks were “Views From The Sun,” “Red Summer” and “Lily & The Moon.” And I think that’s because the way I listen to music — I enjoy motifs a lot. So I think I was really excited about the lyrics and the return to this motif of the sun and moon and summer and all that. My favorite was “Red Summer” though, there was this “Stranger Things” soundtrack thing happening, and I thought the lyrics in that track were phenomenal.
Lewis: I wrote in my notes the same exact thing about “Red Summer” being like “Stranger Things.” The synth cut through a lot of the guitar, so I feel like “Red Summer” was enjoyable for that reason.
Bartol: Yeah, I would love to see more metal albums use synth, because I thought the use of synth in this album was really good and really added onto the texture.
Tamhaney: Yeah, so, I don’t think “Red Summer” is my favorite track in the whole album, but it has my favorite moment, which is toward the end of the song. It just completely goes silent. And like Julianna mentioned, it just comes back in this tidal wave. And the last minute is just so, so rewarding.
Q: What does the album bring to mind in the context of music that you do usually listen to? Or what does it make you think about with relation to your comfort zone in listening to music?
Cantie: I don’t listen to metal so I’m sort of reeling in the corner here. Who else doesn’t usually listen to metal here?
(Zhang, Morano and Lewis each raise their hands)
Cantie: So yeah, this is my first time ever listening to metal, and I guess what I’m thinking about is the stress I felt? I played the album through, and my heart rate just kept increasing, and I’m sort of frustrated because there’s all these beautiful moments that I’m hearing and witnessing but then my body’s telling me like “Sam, turn it off, you’re flying too close to the sun.” And so I guess what I’m interested in is how this genre really soothes some people, but lets others have this feeling of attack? I’m thinking a lot about stress in relation to music, and also about how cinematic it felt the whole time. I kept coming back to the sci-fi of it, as if I was like a main character in “Dune.” And I’m wondering why I’m not chasing that feeling more often? Why does me feeling like I’m running through the planets stress me out as opposed to make me feel calm and powerful?
Gadbois: It’s funny, you mentioned cinematic listening, because I think that for me, that’s literally like 95% of my listening — soundtracking, finding a way to have it sort of be emblematic of reality or take me away from reality, to have a surreal experience. And I can say that especially with stuff like metal, and in general toward, like, harsh-sounding music in general, there’s this resonance that happens, especially if it resonates with your current emotions, almost like it has a reassurance to it. For me, in particular, just kind of allowing that emotion to be validated by what you’re listening to is twice as effective, and sort of allows you to kind of stew in what you’re thinking about and what you’re feeling.
Zhang: I kind of get what you’re talking about Sam; it’s just so much adrenaline. And it really does feel like you’re a cyber punk, like Desperado riding across the sunset. But for me, since I also listen to a lot of classical, although it’s very energetic and it’s very driven, it doesn’t seem (to me at least) to have a lot of tension. Harmonically, I think it’s very like … how would I put it … it’s very stable. It’s very comfortable where it is, but it’s like rhythm, and how they play with time, is how they generate that “oh, I’m running as fast as I can” feeling. So there’s really two push and pulls for me, because harmonically I was very calm and centered, whereas how they were playing with the beat, I was like, oh my god.
Bartol: Jason, you connected two things in my mind right now. Because when I was listening to this album, for some reason, all I was thinking about was Death Grips. I feel like all of the tension created in metal music and Death Grips music is sort of rhythmic tension.
Tamhaney: Yeah, I think rhythm is just really interesting on this album. I think it takes really complicated rhythms and puts them into a little bit more digestible phrases. I think that point is so interesting Jason, because I feel like as I’ve listened to more metal and as I’ve gotten used to the genre, I think the points where I do find tension are rhythmic and not necessarily harmonic. I understand that. And Sam, I’ve talked about this with you separately about anger, but I think this is an album, and same with a lot of the metal I listen to, where it’s just pure kinetic energy. And it’s an outlet for that, and you know, it makes you move. And I think after listening to it, it’s just, there’s a peace that I feel, that I can’t really find elsewhere. So I think that’s what it does for me.
Cantie: Yeah, I was gonna say that I started off the album, thinking, this isn’t for Sam, but when I finished the album, I really felt like it was something that I could see myself going back to in the future to start to unpack emotions that I didn’t know I had. It felt like the placement of sounds were so important, and every single beat had such a specific placement, more than any other genre I’ve listened to before, and so I definitely will be gravitating back toward that.
Lewis: Yeah, I agree with Sam. Going into it, I was sort like, this is uncharted territory for me, and I kind of have an untrained ear for metal. But I think there’s a universal catharsis by the end of it, where I’m like, okay, I don’t need to know all the specifics, but like, emotionally, I did feel a release by the end of it, which I think is really cool that like, no matter if you’re a hardcore fan, or not, everyone can kind of have that universal experience.
Bartol: It’s sort of meditative when you think about it. For me, metal has a bit of a calming effect. I think that’s kind of because the music is, like, really aggressive and angry, and by confronting that anger and that aggressive side of yourself, it releases. It allows that side to have some sort of escape. I think that might explain, like, the calming effect.
Zhang: I mean, I totally get that. For me, it was kind of like how it feels to eat spicy food, in the heat of the moment, it’s like “oh my god, ahhh,” but then afterwards, your body adjusts itself and gets back to a calmer zone after getting all of that out.
Tamhaney: I have not heard that metaphor used with metal, but I love it.
Q: Does anyone else have any final takeaways about how they feel about metal after this? Or maybe metal core specifically? How do we feel about where we would go from here?
Morano: So a while ago, Drew said something about post-hardcore, and I googled to fact check who that would involve, but yeah, I think that is something that I’ve thought about, how I pay more attention to the sounds than the lyrics because I’m not good at like parsing out the lyrics unless I look them up, and I feel like their vocals kind of remind me of 2000s alt rock men, and I think in the gentler moments on some of the songs when, like, the music kind of quiets down and their vocals are more apparent, I feel like they could cover a Franz Ferdinand song and it would make sense. I would be surprised if this genre was completely insular and didn’t have any sort of effects on other genres, or other artists that I listen to. Basically I want to know if other artists that I listen to have also listened to Thornhill. And like, the subtle ways that their music and their sounds have worked into the music that I do listen to on a regular basis.
Gadbois: At least from what I gathered with metalcore and deathcore it’s by nature an amalgamation of a lot of subgenres and genres, dealing within hard rock and metal, obviously. So I think you’re absolutely correct that like, there are a lot of influences that you probably know about that funnel their way into this and into the genre in general. But I think in general, kind of metalcore, I sometimes find, and I don’t think I find this much with Thornhill, I think Thornhill does a good job of it, but sometimes with metalcore, it almost kind of, to me, feels a little too unsure of where it is between a more strictly metal ideology versus something similar to a hardcore rock style. And I think sometimes that confusion can really manifest itself in different ways. And I think what’s refreshing about Thornhill is that there is a definite self-assuredness in what they’re writing, both instrumentally and lyrically. I guess it kind of just, like, makes me wonder, like, where do they go from here? Where do they take their sound? It sounds to me like they’re very confident in their sound, but they’re also ready to try different things?
Q: Do we have any last takeaways or anything anyone wants to add about other feelings on this album?
Cantie: I’m left thinking about what the barriers are to metal music. I was listening to it on blast in my room and like my roommates asked if I was O.K., and that reaction was very silly and peculiar to me as well. I want to know more about, you know, what is holding people back from experiencing this sort of catharsis that we’ve been talking about?
Morano: To kind of go back to something you said earlier, Sam, I think there are some genres that have a hyper-masculine connotation, and I think metal is one of them. I also think punk is another one of them. So yeah, I think that’s been at least one of the perceived barriers that I’ve experienced in the past. So I brought up the example of punk because that was something that I looked at in a U.S. mass culture history class; I feel like part of what contributed to creating that barrier of perceived hyper-masculinity is that that was carried out in the environment at live shows — they weren’t safe spaces for women or people of color. And so I’m curious if metal live shows have also kind of contributed to that barrier? I don’t really know at all. But also I wonder if the lack of live music and not having that experience of it will have any role in changing that barrier.
Tamhaney: I do think that’s interesting, because a lot of the newer metal bands that I find that are more diverse and that are breaking those boundaries often do have a better digital presence and are able to connect more in the era that we’re in right now. That’s such an interesting point that I didn’t think about before.
Zhang: For me, it was like, clicking the link to this album, and then hitting play and like immediately a wall of sound hits me like, I had to do like a double take because I was like, What just happened? I didn’t even really have time to process, you’re immediately submerged into it. Where I think some genres are really more approachable, in the way that how they like, ease you into like, kind of the whole texture and the soundscape of it.
Gadbois: What I’ve noticed over the years, especially as my taste in music has gotten far more experimental, I’ve kinda noticed that, like, people listen to music for very different reasons. And I think that plays a lot into why metal isn’t as wide of a genre. Metal will never be a very mainstream genre, it’s always gonna have its own stereotypes behind it, but there is a sub-group of people who listen to music more widely, and have this openness to them, and in that sense metal can be extremely therapeutic.
Tamhaney: Thanks everyone for doing this. I appreciate it a lot.